Unpolished Gem: Thank you Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I still hate you. By Tonya Nagle, PhD


“Hashimoto thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease that destroys thyroid cells by cell and antibody-mediated immune processes…The diagnosis is often challenging and does not occur until later on in the disease process” (Mincer and Jialal, 2019).


My nieces and nephews came to visit and we went to a local attraction where people purchase a pail of dirt and rocks and essentially sift through for hidden gemstones. The photo above is one picture of my personal haul from this expedition. When our bucket was empty, and everyone had their bag of pretty rocks, we went to the counter where they were clearly identified. The person asked me, “Don’t you want me to sort yours? You may want to get one cut and polished into something nice.” Let’s be clear, I did get something cut and polished into something nice as a gift for my sister from the rocks her children chose. I am not against the cutting and polishing of these stones, but I am living a more authentic life these days in a very direct and honest way. I don’t want MY stones cut and polished. I like them flawed and real, like me.


This leads us back to the information about Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. It is a major weakness for a person striving to be viewed as strong since childhood. I joined the Marines two weeks after graduating high school for crying out loud! I am not weak. Only, I am. It is a difficult thing to admit and makes me extremely vulnerable, which is just another weakness. This one autoimmune disorder has made so many things more challenging for me. I am not a yogi by trade or personal desire. I do a routine of poses in order to function effectively throughout the rest of my day and then in the evening to help me settle in for sleep. I still sign up for the occasional 5k and complete it through a series of jogs and walks. I complete it and that is the goal—to get from start to finish without needing an EMT. What I have learned about living my life as an unpolished gem is pretty simple; I am a lot stronger now than I have ever been before. I don’t tell everyone why I say no to certain foods and activities, I just say no. The truth is, it feels good to say no and not have the feeling of guilt that makes me want to explain myself to total strangers or acquaintances. It is a very empowering feeling to embrace my imperfections and my weaknesses and not apologize for them.


Leading up to my diagnosis, I actually thought I was going to be diagnosed with a terminal illness. My hair was thinning and falling out, my body ached no matter what, no diet had an impact on my weight gain, my stress levels were through the roof, and I began to have heart palpitations. All because of my thyroid! Once my levels were regulated, everything went back to normal, except I had to create a new normal. It is an unpleasant one at times. I still cheat and eat what I want but I acknowledge I will pay for that. I will not only purchase it, but I will experience inflammation, irritable bowel, or fatigue. I pay dearly for whatever it was I deemed worthy of that kind of personal torture, so I do not indulge often no matter how tempting it is or how much the people around me “encourage” such bad behavior. I also can’t abide well-wishers trying to stop me from indulging in said behavior, because I am grown and understand the consequences! Sometimes, I just need a dairy and gluten filled dessert!


In a society where we are constantly trying to be the best version of ourselves, to be cut and polished into something “nice” which is code for beautiful, I am finding the beauty and strength of being a natural rock. By accepting myself as an unpolished gem, I am not longer waiting for the people around me to see it for the original and authentic beauty that cannot be taken for granted. Like these rocks, I am not a standard definition of beauty. Also, like these rocks, I am more vulnerable than I may appear and I will always be a little rougher around the edges. Many people suffer from an autoimmune disorder and feel the need to explain what they now see as flaws. They will begin to justify why they “can’t” or “must’ to others.


I want to remind everyone, we don’t owe anyone an explanation. Just because it is not always a visible condition, doesn’t mean the rest of the world is entitled to your medical condition in order to “understand” your decisions. They are your decisions and inheriting an auto-immune disorder was NOT your decision. Own the choices and don’t apologize. The people in your life you trust with your vulnerability already know just how precious a gem you truly are and you won’t have to be cut and polished for them to see that. Having the condition sucks. I still hate it. I hate you Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, but I thank you for showing me a whole new world of strength I never knew I needed much less had.


Note: If you are being tested for your thyroid levels by a primary care physician and nothing seems to be working, i.e. your levels are in the normal range, but you continue to experience increasingly worse symptoms, ask for a referral to an endocrinologist where they will do the extra thyroid test and possibly change, if not save, your life.



References

Mincer, D. L., & Jialal, I. (2019). Hashimoto thyroiditis. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing.


Previously published on Dharma Drops


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